•May 27, 2014 • 2 Comments

speculative diversity

You may have heard about BookCon 2014? It’s the big, grand, open-to-the-public day of Book Expo America, which is the largest book event in the country. And what did BookCon organizers do? Well, they created a line-up of literary luminaries consisting of 29 white people and a cat.  Maybe they haven’t read any of these authors.

The Stone Lions
by Gwen Dandridge
Diary of a Part-Time Ghost (Ghosts & Shadows #1)
by Vered Ehsani
Parable of the Sower / Parable of the Talents / Kindred (Earthseed #1 -2)
by Octavia E. Butler
Three Parts Dead (Craft Sequence #1)
by Max Gladstone
Akata Witch (Akata Witch, #1)
by Nnedi Okorafor
The Privilege of the Sword (Riverside, #2)
by Ellen Kushner
by Malinda Lo
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
by NK Jemisin
Ring (Ring #1)
by Koji Suzuki, Robert B. Rohmer (Translator), Glynne Walley (Translator)
Keep adding titles for young people…

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Where Do Ideas Come From

•May 17, 2014 • Leave a Comment

My books always start with my asking the question, “what if.”

  • What if I wrote a book about symmetry and the Alhambra for kids. What could I do to make it interesting and readable.
  • What if a medieval princess had a fairy godmother who was from the women’s liberation movement.
  • What if the girl locked in the tower was not a gentle princess but a rowdy hooligan.
  • What if demons appeared in Berkeley. Why would they appear and to whom.

Once I ask these questions then the characters and plot flow from there. My understanding of my characters and the story develop as I write. I put my characters into a situation and see how they react. And as I write, I know them better so their story deepens and evolves.

When I started my Alhambra book, I was there. Once I returned home, I read books and books about Islamic history, art and medieval culture. I joined the Mideast-Medieval Islamic History forum. I requested books from the library loan program (Owen Jones’ book on the Alhambra). I corresponded with an Alhambra scholar in Spain. I went to museums to look at artifacts from that time. I read current books on harem life from women who had lived in them (Fatima Mernissi—Dreams of Trespass).

There are many ways to come up with stories. So how do you get your idea? Do you ask “what if” or “what happened” or “how come” or something else entirely?

More Rewriting. And a Small Success!

•April 1, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Everyone has a process for writing. Mine blows like the wind. It exists but it is ever changing. It can blow soft and stir around a few fallen leaves or it can blow hard and knock down a tree or three.

When I started writing I set up a schedule of writing three times a day for twenty minutes. I was working with my tendency to avoid what I don’t like. I found that I could convince myself to focus on writing that much each day. If I wrote during those times, it was good. Those twenty minutes could easily morph into a half an hour or two hours if things went well. If it didn’t—I was still thinking about the book and I would count that as progress, which it was.

In future years my process evolved through writing each morning before leaving for work to writing late at night before going to bed. Now I usually write in the mornings, often take a walk to think through plot and character development and then sit down and write once some more.

Lately though, all I have been doing is rewriting, and rewriting and rewriting. Two months ago I focused on with the dragon book trying to tighten up the middle. Then I edged into the The Jinn’s Jest, sharpening a few more chapters.

This last month I worked on revising The Stone Lions, not even the type of rewriting that make exciting changes to the plot, just pouring over verb structure and looking for those little changes that can strengthen each sentence. And making more adjustments to further nail a historic period. All this on a book I already had out.

But it paid off!

The Stone Lions just got the gold seal of excellence from Awesome Indies, but it took work to polish it to a burnish. Many people helped, especially an editor at Awesome Indies, G.J. Berger. He pushed, cajoled and encouraged me to go just a bit further to make my book shine.

Now that The Stone Lions is done (eight months after its initial release) I hope to take that time and energy and spread it out over my other manuscripts.

This is yet another reminder for me (and other indy writers) to give each book the full attention it deserves—before you publish!


•February 17, 2014 • 2 Comments

The-Essence-of-Writing-is-RewritingI’m not a rewriter by nature. Whenever I started writing, I felt like it was a fait accompli—a done deal. And that nothing added or retracted could possibly make it better. After fifteen years of writing, I now understand, as my instructor told me again and again, “Writing is rewriting.”

It’s been hard for me to open my hand and let the words go that I have written. These are gems (at least in my mind) that I painstakingly mined that now must be culled from the manuscript.

The theory goes that the first draft is to spill your ideas and characters onto the blank page and breathe a story into existence. This can mean a quick jog to frame the story or a serious slog as you unravel the tale’s journey. Once that foundation is done–you have something on the page–the next step is revision. I find that my process starts even earlier, with each chapter getting a quick swipe of the pen before I leap forward to the next. During that process, the revisiting early chapters, I learn who my characters are and how each thinks and behaves.

Once I have a completed novel, then the hard work starts. Each character’s arc has to be scrutinized, each chapter arc gets a look. How are my secondary characters being treated? Are they strong enough or just taking up space? Maybe I should kill an extraneous character, add a plot line or rip out my very favorite line.  What’s the theme, can I reinforce it by adding or taking away something?

Chapters expand and contract, move around or sometimes die during this process. If a chapter doesn’t lend itself to the telling of this particular story, it must go.

After the structure is completed, there are additional passes: repetitive words search, language that jars, phrases that can be strengthened.

What I’ve described is not the entirety of the process, only a small part. But revision is the heart of writing. And while there may never be a valentine-like love between me and rewriting, I’m attempting to, at the very least, embrace the sucker!

Blog Hop – My Writing Process

•February 7, 2014 • 2 Comments

I was fortunate to be asked to participate in the “My Writing ProcessImage” blog hop.  I want to thank James DiBenedetto for inviting me.

So what am I writing and how do I do it?

1)    What am I working on?

Ah. I have five novels in the works right now, all fantasy. Two are almost ready to go out. One is about ¾ done to a solid first draft. Two have a long, long way to go. The first chapters of each are available on my website.

2)    How does my work differ from others of its genre?

The Stone Lions and its sequel, The Jinn’s Jest are the most different. They combine math and storytelling with a middle grade multicultural fantasy. Not many people write about Islamic girls from the 14th century who solve symmetry mysteries.

With my young adult novels, each book has its own tone. In one story I play with a two women from disparate cultures joining forces, in another I explore longing—wanting something you can have but must let go of.

But no matter what I write, the female protagonists are strong, though in very different ways. Strength is not always physical, but often can be shown in doing what you know is right and staying true to your values.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I love exploring old stories and adding a new twist to them. Lady and the Tower has the kernels of Rapunzel and many other fairy tales in it, but with a very different heroine. Dark started with the question of who would be the best person to defeat a basilisk, The Dragons’ Chosen came from wondering about fairy godmothers.

I like to write about heroines who, each in their own way, confront and challenge the mores of their time and world. With The Jinn’s Jest, the sequel to The Stone Lions, I thought about Jinn, what they are in mythology and how they have been portrayed. Seven Demons, while still in its infancy, is looking at guilt and redemption in demons.

The Stone Lions was started because I was asked to by a friend of mine. And from that has evolved the whole line of work.

4) How does your writing process work?

I sit down in front of a computer. I scribble notes on a piece of paper. I take long walks. I do hours of research. I’ve found that there are lots of ways to get to the same place. In the early days of my writing, I made a simple rule for myself: to sit with no other distractions and work on my writing for twenty minutes, three times a day. It didn’t mean anything had to be written, just that I seriously committed to the process.

Now I have a writing group and also attend workshops and retreats when I can.

I’ve picked three fellow authors to continue the hop, so please visit them too!

Louisa Clarkson (LJ Clarkson) crafts whimsical, inspiring fantasy adventures that keeps tweens reading for days.


Rosie Morgan is author of a young teen fantasy series set in Cornwall, UK, which also happens to be where she lives.
ND Richman  writes a series of middle grade books targeted at reluctant readers, called the Boulton Quest Series. The first in the series, Brothers, Bullies and Bad Guys was published in April of 2013.

A lesson almost learned too late.

•December 2, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Recently I reviewed a number of books by Indie writers. I noticed a number of editing problems that leapt from page to page proliferating like gremlins. While they were distracting, they didn’t keep me from being able to review the books. Still they were notable.

Then, I started getting reviews also that mentioned typos.

Even though I had many lovely reviews, a couple of them dinged me (and appropriately) for little grammar/typo problems.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t gone over this manuscript a thousand times or that I didn’t care enough—it was that I edited one last time—entering a zillion little changes. And with every hundred changes or so, I would accidently leave a little marker, a typo that I never noticed.

I checked the manuscript four times for spelling errors and read it through to look for problems.

After the third comment that there were problems, I realized that this had to change and that no one person is capable of finding all the typos.

Two friends of mine read it through and found some of the errors. But I was nervous. I incorporated those changes and then hired a professional line-editor. It didn’t cost a fortune, as the editor commented that it was pretty clean. Nevertheless, I wanted them, the evil typos, GONE! He worked through and made even more little changes. And I resubmitted it for the paperback version of The Stone Lions.

Hopefully, for my next manuscript submission, I will allocate more time and resources at this critical step. To all of you who read it before these last edits, I thank you for your patience and kindness. I’m very hopeful that perhaps I can be trained after all.

Research and more research

•October 18, 2013 • Leave a Comment

oedOne of the things that is dear to my heart is getting the details right. I’ve read many historic fiction where the characters leap into American slang or phrases that are very modern. I check. That’s what I use the OED for (Oxford English Dictionary). All of us, or at least me and my friends, slip up when writing a first draft. It is imperative to check your details on the second or third draft and make sure that they would have been used in the time period you write about.

It isn’t always easy to get the correct information and there are so many ways to screw up. Food, tools, housing, landscape, weather, weapons, the list goes on with things to consider, ways to err. But there are ways to mitigate the damage.

I read original (translated) texts, read lots of history books, go to museums to see artifacts from the time and culture, visit countries, stand on reproduction ships, wander around old houses, meander through the countryside, whatever I can to figure out details that will make my books accurate and more interesting. Still it is difficult to get all the details correct all the time.

One of the interesting pieces of research that I did for The Stone Lions, involved corresponding with a scholar in Spain, one of the researchers for the Alhambra (I also joined the medieval Islamic listserve for a time). It was from him that I got the layout of theAlhambra during the late 1300’s and found out that the original fountain in the Court of the Lions had been stolen during the 1500’s. He kindly sent me photos of these both. Some of you might have noticed that the fountain on the cover of The Stone Lions is not what is there now. The depiction is of the original (not that anyone but me cares).

Then there are issues of food and culture and tools, all these must be thought about. Here are some examples from my and others writing that I have come across.

1. Transportation

In medieval times, there were no carriages. It is a hard thing for some of us to wrap our heads around, especially those of us reared on Disney films. Cinderella always rode in a carriage! Carriages, as we know them, didn’t appear until the 18th century. There were SOME cartlike/wagonish things earlier that would have jolted your loose teeth out.

2. Food

Fads have come and gone. If you are doing a contemporary book, watch out for what your characters eat. Regional foods can be tricky, not only with what is eaten but what decade and what they call it. Make absolutely sure that you get it right.

If you are placing your characters in a different country and time, spend some research effort in figuring out what they were eating. For example, the simplest error people make is putting New World foods (corn, potatoes) in pre-Columbus time. Even tomatoes sauces wouldn’t have been widely eaten before the mid-1800s.

3. Clothes

What did your characters wear? If they are in the ’60 in America or the 1500 in the lowlands of Scotland, you need to figure out what was being worn. The Society for Creative Anachronism can be a big help here. They have web pages on clothes and style.

4. Names of characters

One of the ways (the many ways) I almost screwed up in The Stone Lions was with naming characters. I looked up names on the web that were Arabic, patting myself on the back for doing a good job. Fortunately, I checked with an Islamic friend one discovered my spellings were Persian. That got corrected.

5. Buildings

Do you really know what the buildings were like at the time/world your people are in? With the Alhambra, I trotted though it. Of course, it has changed during the last 500 years. For other books I learned other interesting details, in Scotland, early on, buildings were very narrow, 10 or 12 feet wide, with steep stairs to an upstairs. I hadn’t believed one writer’s account of this until I saw a number of houses like that and walked in one of them.

6. Weather

This one can take a bit of thought sometimes. California (where I now live) is dry during the summer. But when I lived on the East Coast, getting drenched on a weekly basis, I could not wrap my head around that fact. How could it never rain?

These are just the very beginnings of things to think about AFTER your first draft is completed. I’d love to hear the research that you have done for your novels.